Most local school districts experienced a decrease in student enrollment this fall, but not as much as some officials were expecting.
However, the number of homeless students continues to increase in the area, with hundreds of displaced youths struggling throughout the Belding area and Montcalm County.
Belding Area Schools
Belding Area Schools’ audited count for this fall is 2,017 students, according to Interim Superintendent Sara Shriver. The district is down approximately 30 migrant students from last year’s numbers, due to crop damage this past summer.
“Our final audited count is higher than our June projections,” Shriver noted. “It is positive for Belding Area Schools to see an increase in enrollment of new families into our district.”
The Belding district currently has 52 homeless students. Shriver expects this number to increase throughout the school year, according to past trends.
Shriver said the Belding district has several strategies in place to assist families who are homeless or are living in doubled-up situations. Those strategies include working collaboratively with the Ionia County Intermediate School District’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act grant coordinator Brenda Greenhoe, who helps homeless families with resources for their day-to-day needs. A homeless liaison is also available in each of Belding’s school buildings under the direction of District Homeless Liaison Maureen Dorough. The liaisons help identify homeless students and families.
The Belding district also offers, clothes, free meals, academic supplies, supplemental services and transportation services so students can attend school.
“The district staff have participated in training sessions this year on how to identify homeless students and the proper procedures for referring students in these situations,” Shriver said.
Carson City-Crystal Area Schools
Carson City-Crystal Area Schools has a projected student count of 959 students, down 18 students from last spring, according to Superintendent Kevin Murphy. The school district has increased enrollment in numerous grades, but the overall decrease in student enrollment is largely attributed to the exchange of exiting seniors and incoming kindergarteners.
“I believe that this is not something unique to Carson City-Crystal Area Schools when you examine what is happening statewide with population and school-aged children,” Murphy said.
The CC-C school district currently has 49 homeless students.
Central Montcalm Public School
Central Montcalm Public School currently has 1,751 students, down 58 students from last year, according to Superintendent Kristi Teall.
“This is a large hit to our budget,” Teall said. “We will be reorganizing following our amended budget hearing in November.”
The Central Montcalm district currently has 33 homeless students, compared to 35 at the end of last school year. The district also works with Greenhoe and the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District to help students with academic support, school supplies, transportation, tuition and housing.
Greenville Public Schools
Greenville Public Schools currently has 3,748 students, including partial enrollees shared with the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, St. Charles School, the West Michigan Virtual School and local homeschool families. The district’s current student enrollment is up from last spring, but down from last fall by 19 students, according to Superintendent Pete Haines.
“Given early enrollments and programming decisions, we had anticipated slight growth,” Haines said. “The impact on budget isn’t insignificant, but not critical or likely to cause interruptions in programs or services.”
Like the Belding school district, Greenville’s student enrollment was negatively affected by crop damage, due to local families who depended on agricultural work.
“Our decline seems most directly related to job loss in this area,” Haines noted. “In the long term, we are encouraged by another year of strong kindergarten enrollment. After some years of fluctuation, we’ve stabilized to traditional and typical classes of just under 300 students per grade.”
The Greenville school district currently has 115 homeless students. Haines expects this number to increase through the school year, according to past trends. At this time last year, Greenville had about 85 homeless students and that number reached 150 by the end of last school year.
“The trend suggests we could see 200 identified during this school year, and how many others who are able to conceal their trouble?” Haines said. “That’s more than 5 percent of our kids who are likely to be identified over the course of the year who lack a stable home environment, predictable meals, clean and warm clothing and more. How do you suppose they’ll perform on MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) tests?”
Linda Van Houten coordinates services for homeless students in the Greenville school district. She said the school currently offers numerous services to homeless students and their families, including clothing, free breakfast and lunch and other food, payment for all school activities, payment for dental appointments, doctor appointments and glasses, payment for electric and heating bills, transportation, Title I services, gift cards to stores such as Goodwill and Save-A-Lot and “whatever else is needed, basically.” Many of these services are made possible by donations from an “amazing” community and local organizations, according to Van Houten.
Van Houten recently met with school social workers and said their needs included having snack food to send home with students at the end of the day for an evening meal, such as soup, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, granola bars, fruit bars and fruit snacks.
Additional needs include socks, underwear, hoodies, sweatpants, coats, hats, mittens/gloves and hygiene items such as soup, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant.
Van Houten said she is concerned about rising homeless student numbers. She said the Greenville school district currently has five families who are “the traditional homeless family,” meaning they stay in a different place each night. Several other families are staying at a local hotel or other shelters. In addition, other families live in transitional housing, meaning they live at a different place every several weeks. Some high school students are completely unaccompanied by parents and are living with friends while other students are awaiting foster care placement.
“Our biggest challenge is transportation,” Van Houten said. “Trying to track the families and provide transportation to the students to the school of their origin in order to provide that student some type of stability is an ongoing struggle. We know that sometimes the school is the only place they have consistency, so we work hard at making sure the students can stay in the same school all year if at all possible. This includes a student that may end up in another city.”
Lakeview Community Schools
Lakeview Community Schools currently has 1,300 students, down 34 students from last fall, but up 20 students from budget projections for this year, according to Superintendent Kyle Hamlin.
“We still show a declining enrollment, however the count came in higher than anticipated, which will be reflected in a better fund balance than projected,” Hamlin said.
The Lakeview school district currently has 63 homeless students, compared to 70 last year and 68 the year before.
“The first objective with the homeless guidelines are to keep students in their district of residence in an effort to keep as much stability as possible,” Hamlin said. “We provide basic needs when appropriate, such as food, clothing and school supplies. We provide transportation to and from school either by providing a gas reimbursement or by coordinating transportation with the two districts that are involved, whichever is most logical.”
Johanna Rentschler is Lakeview’s homeless liaison.
“I can’t thank her enough for the countless hours she spends addressing our family needs,” said Hamlin of Rentschler.
Montabella Community Schools
Montabella Community Schools currently has 830 students, the same number as last fall and 30 students more than projected for this fall, according to Superintendent Shelly Millis.
“The addition of 30 students to the budget will increase our revenue by about $210,000,” Millis said. “We have already added staff since the creation of the budget to account for the increased numbers — two additional teachers — and we are currently working on adding another teacher to help break up some high class numbers.”
The Montabella school district currently has 33 homeless students, but this number changes frequently as staff are made aware of situations, according to Millis.
“Our homeless students receive a variety of services from our staff, including transportation to and from school whether they are in our district or not, free breakfast and lunch, access to academic remediation services, clothing and additional food sent home for dinner,” Millis said. “The services really depend on the need of that particular student. Our liaison also works with other organizations to assist our students.”
Tri County Area Schools
Tri County Area Schools currently has 2,194 students, down 20 students from last year, according to Superintendent Al Cumings.
The district has 2,200 students counting developmental preschool enrollees.
Cumings said the district was able to reopen the former Edgerton Upper Elementary School as an early childhood building thanks to performance contracting, or using energy savings to do building projects at no cost to taxpayers. Preschool numbers doubled the first year the building was opened. A Head Start program was also added.
“A formerly closed building is now hosting over 100 preschool students,” Cumings said. “It has been exciting for us to see these numbers.”
Tri County currently has 44 homeless students, up from 35 last year.
“We’re doing a better job identifying homeless kids,” Cumings said. “I am seeing the struggle and growth of rural poverty. It is so difficult because with gas prices up it is very difficult for families to even get to the locations needed for support.”
Vestaburg Community School
Vestaburg Community School currently has 700 students, down six students from last fall, but “up significantly” from last spring when the district was as low as 671 students, according to Superintendent Jeff Beal.
“We were preparing for the worst by budgeting for 650 students, but hoping for the best with enrollment numbers around 680 to 685,” Beal said. “Needless to say, this has far outperformed our estimates and we are very pleased with both the families choosing Vestaburg as a community to live in and those students and families that view Vestaburg Community School as a destination district.”
Vestaburg’s school of choice and state aid release enrollment numbers are up 10 students from last year. Vestaburg is currently enrolling 16 percent of its student body from outside school district boundaries.
“This is in large part due to the exceptional staff we have and the attention we are able to offer to our students, excellent education, rich athletic traditions and cutting edge technology, helping students reach their potential and parents feel connected to the process,” Beal said.
Vestaburg currently has eight homeless students who are living with friends or relatives on a temporary basis. The school district provides them with school supplies, transportation and school-based counseling, according to Beal.